Empowering Abilities and Independence

For individuals with disabilities and their families, it’s essential to find specialized resources close to home. Here in Greater Peoria, a range of world-class organizations work to provide complementary offerings — from home care to employment services to recreational opportunities and beyond. “One fantastic thing about this area is that there are so many organizations and professionals working together,” confirms Katie Hogan Van Cleve, executive director of the Heart of Illinois Special Recreation Association (HISRA). “And services are so accessible.”

A joint effort of the Chillicothe, Morton, Peoria and Washington park districts, HISRA provides a host of special recreation programs and services for individuals with disabilities and special needs. “We serve people across the lifespan, starting at age four,” Van Cleve explains. That includes a year-round adult day program, summer camp for kids and a partnership with Special Olympics to offer wheelchair basketball and other sports. They provide opportunities to create art, play mini-golf, attend theater events and much more, regardless of ability to pay. “There really is something for everyone.”

For a community of its size, the resources available in Greater Peoria for individuals with disabilities are vast and varied. More than simply addressing basic needs, they help provide a high quality of life for parents and families as well. “Not only can you work full-time and be fulfilled in your professional life,” Van Cleve notes, “you can be at your child’s physical therapy appointment or afterschool activities — or drop them off at summer camp.”

HISRA is just one resource in this critical network of programs and services for individuals with disabilities. Here are nine other organizations doing incredible work across Greater Peoria each and every day:


Easterseals Central Illinois is an amazing resource in our region, helping children with developmental delays, disabilities and other special needs reach their full potential. Each year they assist more than 6,000 area families, from pediatric therapy and learning opportunities to specialty clinics and early intervention. Easterseals is also a founding member of The Autism Collective with OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois, offering support for those living with autism.


Camp Big Sky is a magical place in rural Fulton County where children and adults with disabilities (plus their families, friends and caregivers) can enjoy the outdoors at no cost. This beautiful natural setting provides a safe environment for educational opportunities as well as fishing, boating, hiking, archery, camping and other activities.


EP!C empowers individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities with a wealth of educational, residential, employment and clinical resources: from technology training and job placement to behavioral health services and more. Among their most unique offerings, EP!C Harvest provides opportunities in EP!C’s greenhouse, garden and CSA program, while the EP!Casso Art Studio & Gallery supports self-expression through art classes and lessons.


Located in northern Peoria County, Blue Ridge Community Farm is a 245-acre working farm that hosts field trips for children and social opportunities for adults with special needs — all free of charge. Ten alpacas, four donkeys, chickens, two golden retrievers and a horse call the farm home, providing therapeutic benefits alongside learning opportunities around crops, animal care and farm knowledge.


With a dozen facilities in Tazewell County, TCRC offers an array of programs for persons with developmental disabilities which emphasize independence and self-sufficiency. From job training and community employment to residential services, day services and much more, TCRC provides a range of opportunities that allow them to fulfill their chosen life goals.


CWTC provides essential training to adults with disabilities to maximize their independence and create new opportunities to live, work and grow. Their employment programs build financial independence and boost self-confidence, while community access and residential programs support integration into their chosen communities. All services are as individualized and unique as the needs of each person.


Best Buddies is on a mission to put itself out of business. The global volunteer movement envisions an inclusive world where people with disabilities are so successfully integrated into their community that its own existence is no longer needed. Until that day, Best Buddies (and its Peoria chapter) is around to help them form meaningful friendships, secure employment, improve their communication and leadership skills and feel valued by society.


Advocates for Access believes that people with disabilities are the best judge of the direction of their own lives. The organization is staffed primarily by people with disabilities, bringing a firsthand understanding of the barriers they face as well as their potential for success. From installing service ramps to training personal assistants and more, they offer critical support for independent living.


Not only is Peoria home to the original “white cane” — the iconic mobility device created here in 1930 — it’s also home to the nation’s first city ordinance granting right-of-way to blind or visually impaired pedestrians. For nearly 70 years, the Central Illinois Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired has carried that legacy forward through services ranging from assistive technologies to education and training to socially supportive events.